With Jorge Lorenzo already signed for Yamaha, and Dani Pedrosa a strong candidate to announce his contract renewal with Honda this weekend, the silly season focus has shifted to the next log damming up the river, the Texan Ben Spies. Spies has been widely expected to stay at Yamaha, but the question mark surrounding the Texan sensation has been whether his future lies in World Superbikes or in MotoGP. Yamaha have made no secret of the fact they'd like to keep the American in World Superbikes for another year, while reports are rife that both Ducati and Suzuki made approaches to Spies to join them in MotoGP.
Yamaha, it seems, have won this particular battle. According to Speedweek's Gunther Wiesinger - about whom a press officer once complained to me that he knew too much - Spies has penned a new deal with Yamaha, signing on for another two years. The first year of the contract would see Spies staying on in World Superbikes, either to defend or to conquer the World Superbike title for Yamaha in 2010, with Spies stepping up to MotoGP in 2011, most likely to take over Colin Edwards' seat in the Tech 3 Yamaha squad.
With Spies staying in World Superbikes, this paves the way for more dominoes to fall into place in both MotoGP and World Superbikes. The prime beneficiary will be Colin Edwards, who will get to keep his Yamaha Japan-funded seat in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha squad, though Edwards' partner is still to be decided. In World Superbikes, there will probably only be one seat vacant in the Yamaha Motor Italia squad, which could go to Cal Crutchlow, though reports are placing him in Moto2 with Gresini next season. That Yamaha Superbike seat will be very hotly contested, with the new R1 clearly competitive, and the team highly proficient. If Crutchlow doesn't take the seat, the chances of the man dominating the BSB championship, Leon Camier, is the prime candidate.
These things will start to sort themselves out over the next few weeks. Stand by for a deluge of silly season news from World Superbikes over the coming weeks.
~~~ UPDATE ~~~
Yamaha Racing have now officially announced the news. The text of the press release follows:
Ben Spies to stay with Yamaha in 2010 and 2011
Yamaha Motor Company Ltd and Yamaha Motor Europe N.V. are delighted to announce that an Agreement has been concluded with Ben Spies for his participation with Yamaha for 2010 and 2011. The program foresees a season in 2010 with the Yamaha World Superbike Team based in Gerno di Lesmo, Italy and a switch to Yamaha’s satellite MotoGP team for 2011.
Laurens Klein Koerkamp, Racing Manager Yamaha Motor Europe said – "We got to know Ben this season in our Yamaha World Superbike Team as a very talented, professional and dedicated person whom we are thrilled to continue working with. Not only is the relationship between Ben, the team and Yamaha in general very successful but also it’s a pleasure to work with him. This early agreement permits Yamaha and Ben Spies to now fully focus on their 2009 World Superbike campaign in their challenge to achieve their first World Superbike Championship titles together."
Lin Jarvis, Managing Director of Yamaha Motor Racing said – "We are truly excited about the prospect of Ben’s arrival into our future MotoGP program. Ben is doing a great job for Yamaha in his first season in the World Superbike Championship. He is in great shape to challenge for the title this year and we will be rooting for him at the remaining four events this season. Ben’s primary mission is to win both his and Yamaha’s first World Superbike title. After that when Ben eventually makes the move to the MotoGP championship we will be ready for him and, in line with the new MotoGP regulations, we will create a place for him within the Yamaha satellite team and give him the support he needs for his next challenge.
"I am very happy to say that I will remain a part of the Yamaha family and will continue in the WSB series for 2010. This is an exciting period of my racing career and I look forward to even more. Yamaha has been great in the warm welcome that I have received entering the world level and I want to thank them for all they have done, and giving me their trust for a next career step into MotoGP in 2011."